Doctor visits declined during 2001-2010 span

How the Affordable Care Act changes the dynamic of medical utilization for this decade remains to be seen, but the prevailing trend line shows that Americans made about one less visit per year to their doctor in 2010 as compared to 2001.

[See also: Patients look for mix of short wait times and long doctor visits]

A U.S. Census Bureau report released last week revealed that working-age adults made an average of 3.9 visits to doctors, nurses or other medical providers in 2010, down from 4.8 in 2001. Among those who made at least one such visit, the average number of visits declined from 6.4 to 5.4 over the period.

“The decline in the use of medical services was widespread, taking place regardless of health status,” said Brett O'Hara, chief of the Census Bureau's Health and Disability Statistics Branch, in a prepared statement accompanying the report.

According to the report, most Americans consider themselves to be quite healthy: nearly two in three (66 percent) reported their health as being either “excellent” or “very good.” Another 24 percent said their health was “good,” while 8 percent described it as “fair” and 2 percent as “poor.” Non-Hispanic blacks were more likely to consider their health to be fair or poor (13 percent) than non-Hispanic whites (10 percent) or Hispanics (9 percent).

[See also: Patients want more engagement with doctors]

The survey report noted that among working-age adults who said their health was either fair or poor, the average number of annual visits dropped from 12.9 to 11.6 over the 2001 to 2010 period. The corresponding numbers fell from 5.3 to 4.2 visits for those reporting good health and from 3.2 to 2.5 among those who said their health was excellent or very good.

Other selected highlights from the report:
  • Medical provider visits become more likely with age, as 37 percent of young adults 18 to 24 did not visit a provider at all during the year, compared with 8 percent of those 65 and older.
  • Hispanics were the least likely racial or ethnic group to see a medical provider, as 42 percent never visited one during the year.
  • Women were more likely than men to have visited a medical provider during the year (78 percent compared with 67 percent).
  • Spending a night in a hospital is a rare event: 92 percent of the population did not spend a night in a hospital during the previous year, and only 1 percent spent eight or more nights. The chances of spending no nights in the hospital ranged from 96 percent for children to 83 percent for people 65 and older.
  • More than half of the population (57 percent) did not take prescription medication at any point during the previous year, while 35 percent reported taking it regularly.
  • In general, self-rated health declines with age: more than half of children are in excellent health (59 percent) compared with 9 percent of those 65 or older.
  • There is a “U-shaped” relationship between health status and having any type of health insurance coverage. Among all people who reported excellent health, 85 percent were insured, compared with 80 percent with good health and 85 percent whose health was poor.
  • In 2010, 21 percent of uninsured adults in poor health received routine check-ups, compared with 12 percent of all uninsured adults.
  • People under 65 whose health was poor, fair or good were more likely to be uninsured (23 percent, 25 percent and 24 percent, respectively) than those with very good or excellent health (20 percent and 16 percent, respectively).

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